Identifying Visual Spatial Weakness in Geometry Students

Presentation author(s)

Colleen Marie Tillis ’20, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin

Majors: Psychology; Education & Youth Studies


Completion of high school Geometry class is not only a rite of passage for adolescents today, but it is a required class of students who are college-bound or planning careers in the military, the trades, or design. A student’s success or lack-there-of in Geometry can have lasting impacts on self-esteem and career opportunities.

Research shows that students who present visual spatial weaknesses will struggle in Geometry; yet, schools do not screen students for this difficulty. As a result, often, teachers and parents (and students themselves) are shocked and confused when the hardworking student struggles in a sophomore-level mathematics course. Generally, Geometry teachers are not introduced to evidence-based strategies designed to help these frustrated learners.

Drawing on my interests in Psychology and Education, I recruited and partnered with a Geometry teacher and eleven of her students in a Wisconsin high school to determine whether a relationship exists between the high schoolers’ scores on psychological screening tests (designed to assess weaknesses in their visual spatial perception) and grades they earned in Geometry class.

Specifically, I aimed to determine which of six psychological tests – the clock drawing test, the draw interlocking pentagon test, the Design Organizational Test (a pattern recognition test), the Trail Making Test A (a connect-the-dots test using numbers), the Trail Making Test B (a connect-the-dots test that alternates dots between numbers and letters), or the cube drawing test –- are most predictive of students’ grades. These screening tests are all quick, easy-to-administer, and require only pencil and paper. Grades were reported directly from the students’ teacher, with permission from the students and their parents.

Although additional research is needed, studies like this can offer an evidence-based intervention that teachers can use on day one of Geometry class to identity students at risk for poor performance. Proactive tutoring and special programming can follow.


Kristin Bonnie and Rebecca K, Geometry teacher ( a High School in Wisconsin)

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